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If you’re preparing for a job change, or better yet, an interview at your dream company, chances are there are a few questions that you’re worried about answering. As a career coach, I work with many clients who are preparing for their interviews and these are the questions that cause the most concern. Authenticity is key, so use these guidelines to prepare your perfect answers to common — but tricky — interview questions.
1. Tell me about yourself. The answer to this question does not start with "I was born in Missouri and I have 3 brothers." Keep your answer relevant to your career. I recommend a four-part answer in which you cover what you do, what you love about your job, the skills you use and how those skills will benefit your next company. Remember to keep it relevant to the position and forward moving.
2. Why did you leave your last role? This can be a tricky one because if you left, then something was probably wrong. Like the "tell me about yourself" answer, stay positive and forward-moving. Try flipping around any negative things you’re inclined to say about your previous company.
For example, if you found yourself with a boss who is a micromanager, you could mention what you learned in the role and enjoyed about the company and then mention you are seeking a job with more autonomy because you thrive and do your best work in that type of environment. That’s why you’re interested in working at [Company Name]. Always bring it back to the opportunity before you.
3. What is your biggest weakness? Many people think that the best way to answer this question is by saying that you have no weaknesses or your weakness is perfectionism. Let’s face it, neither of those answers are true or authentic. Interviewers ask this question to learn if you can identify areas to improve and act on what you discover.
Think of something you are trying to improve or an important lesson you have learned at work. These examples can help you explain an area where you haven’t always been strong, but you’re working to improve. Paint a picture of why you identified this as something to work on and how you’ve already made improvements. Avoid focusing on weaknesses that you haven’t already made an effort to improve.
4. Tell me about a time when… Any question that starts this way is an invitation to tell a story. Storytelling is a very impactful tool to use in job interviews, so take advantage of this opportunity. A trap that many fall into when storytelling in interviews is to focus on what they did, not why it mattered.
To avoid forgetting the all-important results, write out a few stories that demonstrate successes in your career. Create a story for the following scenarios – a proud accomplishment, a big challenge, a victory as a part of a team, a victory while leading a team and a very satisfied customer.
Use the SOAR format to ensure that you’re hitting the important points. SOAR stands for Situation, Obstacle, Action and Result. I have a client who created a SOAR story for each of the 10 core competencies at a company where she was interviewing. It prepared her to tell stories in the interview that were relevant to the company culture and she was offered the job. These ‘behavioral interview’ questions have become very common and it pays to be prepared.
5. What are your salary expectations? In early stages of interviewing, this question can be easily deflected by mentioning you are excited to learn more about the role and when you fully understand the scope of your responsibilities, you’d be happy to discuss a fair compensation package.
When you get to the final rounds and this question is more difficult to avoid, be sure you are as prepared as possible with research around what you’re worth and typical salary information for the industry, role and company. The best time to negotiate is once the team is confident that you are the one for the job and want to go the extra mile to win you over.
6. What questions do you have for me? It is very important that you have questions prepared for the end of the interview. It shows that you are engaged and interested in learning as much as possible about the role. Be sure that your questions aren’t about information that can be found online or in the materials provided to you before your interview.
It’s a great idea to ask about the interviewer’s experiences – people love to talk about themselves. Find out what they like and dislike about their jobs, what challenges they think you will face in the role and what the team dynamics are like. Check out my article for more great questions to ask at the end of an interview.
Preparation and authenticity are key components to your interview. Remember that you’re not there to perform and say what you think an interviewer wants to hear, but to present the best possible version of you. Use these guidelines to prepare for tricky interview questions and you’ll ace your next interview.
Alyson Garrido is passionate about helping people advance their careers and find jobs they will enjoy. As a career coach, she partners with her clients to identify their strengths and create a path toward a more fulfilling career. Learn more at www.alysongarrido.com.
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